Thursday, February 25, 2016

'Poppy + George' by Diane Samuels

25 February 2016

Watford Palace Theatre has a strong commitment to new writing and it was good to be there last Saturday to see 'Poppy + George' – a new play by Diane Samuels. Set in a dressmaker's workshop in London in 1919, 'Poppy + George' explores changing gender roles in a world still coming to terms with the transformations caused by the Great War. Jennie Darnell's production had much to commend, including a wonderful set by Ruari Murchinson and great acting by all four cast members. And it was interesting to see the use of music hall songs and comic routines in Watford Palace Theatre, which was itself a music hall in the early twentieth century. But the play felt like it still needed some work to make it click. There was an inconsistency of tone that made it hard to know what level of realism was being aimed for. From the opening scene it was immediately obvious to the audience that the young man, George the chauffeur, was being played by a female actor. But it took the whole first half of the play before we were presented with the revelation that George was a woman pretending to be a man. Once the 'secret' was out the play became much more interesting, comparing two approaches to how women might assume roles previously reserved for men. The contrast between the comedy of the music hall female impersonator and the seriousness of the woman living as a man was also cleverly constructed. George's story reminded me of Jackie Kay's novel 'Trumpet' (reviewed here in September 2011) but Diane Samuels' play didn't feel quite as effective as it could have been.

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